Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Kentucky’s Gran, Eliot look ahead to Saturday’s Blue-White spring game

EDDIE GRAN

On if Boom Williams has gotten what he needed out of a no-contact practice: “Yeah. Coach (Corey Edmond) has had him and he’s been working out and doing everything he can to stay in shape. His rehab has gone well. He’s doing everything he can, we’re asking him to do to get in there. Gotta do the winter conditioning stuff where he can never be on the ground. He had to be careful because if he fell down, you wanted to really protect that elbow. He had a nice brace on it, but I think he’s done a nice job. This summer will be huge for him. He was in the meetings, studying. I think he knows it; he’s not going to obviously know it as well as the other guys because they’ve got game time and scrimmage time experience. He’ll know it enough to where we get through the summer time, he should be ready to go that first day. Mentally is where I’m more concerned about. Gotta make sure he does a good job this summer.”

On how he’s tried to change Boom Williams positively: “You know, I don’t think you can change anybody. You can help them just try to be really consistent. Consistency is really important. From Coach Harbaugh when I was with him my first stint that was the one thing I saw him as a coach, he was very consistent in how he treated everybody. And I tried to do that in that room whether you’re a one or the fifth back. There’s no cutting corners. I’ve encouraged him that if you’re going to be the starter, you’ve got to do things right on and off the field, in the classroom and those are the things we’re stressing here. I think he’s bought into that. So I’m excited about it; I really am. I like his personality. I like what he brings to the table. We’ve just got to now get to the football side when he gets back well.”

On the stress of keeping stars on task off the field, too: “There’s a lot of texting, a lot of phone calls, a lot of encouragement and when they’re not doing right, you’ve got to get after them and bring them in. You never want to say -- I try to handle it on our side of the ball. When it gets to me, it’s my position, or it’s somebody else, where it doesn’t have to go to Coach Stoops. If it goes to Coach Stoops, there’s a serious problem. So I just let him know. If this keeps continuing to happen, then it goes to Coach Stoops and that’s not going to be a good meeting. Again, it’s a team sport, so you’ve got to do what everybody else is doing for us to be successful.”

On if being sent to Stoops gets their attention: “Yeah, and you know, what coaches -- and that’s his philosophy -- at the end of the day, it’s our job to handle it. He’s got enough on his plate, so it’s our job. I’m responsible for the offense and they’ve got to make sure they do everything right. You stay in touch with them, communicate. The one thing I’ve learned from Coach Stoops is he’s really big on communicating with our players, talking to them, bringing them, not just to rip their tail, but come in and find out a little bit about them. Coach Tuberville was really good at that, too. After practice, go in the locker room, hang out and shoot the breeze with them. I think you build relationships and then you build trust. And I think that’s a good thing. They don’t always want to be ripped, you know. You get it out on the field a lot. And sometimes, you’ve got to put your arm around them and love them and tell them you love them. That will go a long way.”

On if a player or two has had a particularly impressive spring: “You know, one in my position, Sihiem King. He’s really stepped it up, right now especially academically, too. He’s responded and he’s had a really good spring. The receivers, it was really good to see today -- you know we didn’t have a very good practice last Saturday; we came in and they responded on Tuesday and had a really good practice; came out today with some energy. I was really impressed with our offense that way. I was excited to see guys step up. Guys were leading. There were a number of guys that did that. At the receiver position, I think I saw Juice (Garrett Johnson) take a huge step, which we needed him to do. We challenged him on Tuesday and he came out today and he looked like the Juice of old. He was making contested catches. And you heard Coach Eliot talk about that on offense and defense, if you’re competing against each other, you want two groups to be out there executing and then somebody make a play. That was really good to see. Tavin Richardson I think has made some good strides for us at that position. And Jeff Badet. That’s a group we really wanted to challenge this spring. I think they’re getting better. We’re not near where we need to be, but they’re going. C.J. (Conrad) being just kind of C.J. He’s been solid, but he’s learning this thing and as we’re using him, he’s got a lot to learn, too. The quarterbacks have developed and I really like where Drew (Barker) is right now and Stephen (Johnson) is doing well. Where we’re at, I’m excited about it.”

On what fans should expect to see from his offense on Saturday: “Execution. I don’t want to see anything sloppy. Come out and have fun, play with energy, come off the ball, be physical. When we throw, catch. Do all the little things right. It’s going to be a very, very condensed game plan. There’s not going to be a lot -- there might be some disappointed people -- but it’s a spring game. You want to get out of there with everybody healthy. You want to score some points and you want to be successful. You want to come out of there feeling good about yourself.”

On tempo of spring game: “I think we’ll be just normal, our normal tempo. I don’t think we’ll go anything fast. We’ll have a couple fast balls and things form. No, it’ll be regular this week.”

On what he likes about Garrett Johnson: “No. 1 his speed. That’s his advantage. He’s got great quickness off the ball and what he’s learning to do this week is we’ve talked to him about playing with great vertical speed on every play. You just can’t have vertical speed on passes, it needs to be on runs, and it can’t just be on long passes, but it has to be on short passes. If you don’t do that against our DBs, they will cover you. And we moved him outside, which was really good for him because now he’s learning inside and outside, so for him that is going to be huge. It’s going to help us, too, with our depth. We get Dorian (Baker) back, too, and that’s going to help us with our depth. But now if we can interchange him a little bit, Timmons being a swing guy, too, you’ve added more depth to your receiving crew.”

On what he’ll look for from Drew Barker in spring game: “Running the offense and executing. Running it, being efficient, making great decisions. That’s what I’m looking for.”

On Sihiem King having good spring and its import: “I don’t think he really has been a factor around here. So I think he built a little bit of confidence with Boom being out. He got more reps. And so he’s forced into that situation and as he built confidence, he kept getting better. He’s a different back. He’s different than Jojo; he’s different than Mikel. He can make you miss in space. He’s a good receiver out of the backfield and he took it to heart with protection. He really kind of dropped pads a couple of times and he’s a smaller back and you have to have great technique when you go against those bigger guys. I think he did that. I was really excited about his progress throughout the spring.”

D.J. ELIOT

“We got to go outside today and practice. We needed that. We get more space. Sometimes you can do more drills, do more things and that was good to get out there and do that. I thought that we started slow defensively. We didn’t have our energy there, but we picked it up and we finished strong. I was proud of the kids’ efforts for that. Overall we’ve had a good spring. We’ve had some young players that have developed and stepped up at certain spots, and then we’ve had some players that were young last year that are now considered veterans, and I saw some leadership from those guys, particularly in the defensive back position. I think that those guys, like I mentioned before, are becoming our leaders and I think that those guys are becoming not only great athletes but I think they’re becoming good players. We’ve got to have that especially in this league, with the great wideouts that we face we have to play really good in the back end. I was pleased with their development.

“I’m also pleased with the linebacker development considering that none of those guys played in games last year. We have some guys that have played before but not for Kentucky. They learned our system. I was pleased with that. I was pleased with how well they played and I was pleased with how well they were able to pick up the playbook. Overall, I thought it was a good spring. We still have a practice and a spring game and I expect us to play fast and play with energy and play with emotion, in both the practice and the spring game. It’s something we’ve been harping on all spring, that it doesn’t matter how fundamentally sound you are, how assignment sound you are, if you don’t play with effort, then it’s not worth anything. I think besides a few practices this spring we’ve done that. I’m excited about that.

On what he wants his players to do after spring to continue to develop: “I want them to study. For their finals. But as far as football goes – thanks for the courtesy laugh, I appreciate it. We won’t be around for recruiting, but there’s plenty that they can get done. Graduate assistant coaches will be here, and they can meet with them and they can watch video, they can review the playbook, they can work agilities with the strength coach. They’ll continue to lift and run with the strength coach, and they’ll continue to have all the access and resources that they need to study the game. As far as reps go, you’re not gonna be able to simulate football reps unless you’re playing football, but there’s plenty that they can do through technology and through the strength and conditioning to get better as a football player.

On Matt Elam’s progress:I’ve seen Matt become better fundamentally. You know, Matt is 6-5 and he’s really big, so one of his weaknesses is he’s got to play low. He’s naturally higher than everybody else, and I think I saw improvement in that throughout the spring. Matt certainly has things that he can get better at, but I think he got better at playing low.”

On if he’s pleased with how OLBs have responded since Andy Buh’s departure: “Yes. I think they’ve responded very well. We just moved on. We just went to the next day, and those guys had great focus and they’ve had great attention to detail and they’ve done a good job.”

On if he feels better about LBs as a group than he did at start of spring:Much better than going into the spring. I remember our first practice or walkthrough, it was a base defense and it was the most simple thing that we do within our defense and neither one of them knew what to do. So I was like, ‘Oh gosh.’ But now, they’re picking it up and they’re playing much faster and they have very few mistakes, which is part of it.”

On whether De’Niro Laster will play inside or outside LB: ”He’s still playing both. Depending on what practice it is, he might be an inside or outside guy, but we’re gonna find what’s the best fit for the team.”

On if there is a player who has particularly stepped up this spring:I think Courtney Miggins has had a great spring. I think Courtney Miggins, for us, was a backup and a role player for us last year. He came in in August. I’ve always thought that he’s had talent, but not only was he not here for the spring last year, he wasn’t here for the summer last year. He was in school through summer school and he didn’t get here until training camp of last year. He’s been able to go through an offseason and now he’s been able to go through a spring ball, and I think he’s really improved a lot as a player.”

On what Miggins gives them:Well Courtney has the ability – he’s a lot like Cory Johnson in the fact that he’s big enough to defend the run and play inside but he’s also quick twitched so he’s a good pass rusher. He’s a good slanter, he moves well for his size, so he has a lot of the same skills that Cory Johnson had.”

On if there’s a position that needs to benefit from summer:I think that the linebackers are still – it’s not that they haven’t been doing a good job, I think it’s that they’re the least experienced. Even up front on defense, almost every guy in some game played a lot. Courtney Miggins played a lot last year, Regie (Meant) rotated starting with Cory Johnson, Matt (Elam) had to start the whole second half of the season. I think that we have some guys up front that at least understand the techniques and assignments that we expect in our defense and have repped them a lot. But we don’t have anybody at linebacker. We don’t have anybody that’s – you know, Jordan Jones played mainly special teams last year and Eli Brown was a redshirt. Courtney Love, he was ineligible last year with his transfer rules. Nico Firios sat out last year with his shoulder injury. Kash (Daniel) just got here. De’Niro (Laster) just got here. We just don’t have any experience at that position.”

On what he’ll be looking at when he goes back and watches spring game film:Like I mentioned, I want to see effort and enthusiasm, and I want to see good, fundamental, clean football. Good football is when both sides execute and somebody makes a play. Bad football is when somebody succeeds because somebody else isn’t executing. You know? So when you watch a game you want to see both sides execute and then one of those players wins his one on one, and that’s good football.”

On Alvonte Bell:Good. Alvonte, we redshirted last year. With Alvonte, when he first came in here we tried him at the outside linebacker position. He went through training camp. He’s like Courtney in the fact that he didn’t get here until August, and we tried him at the outside linebacker position and we decided that wasn’t his best fit. So this spring he’s played exclusively the defensive end position, and I’ve seen him improve quite a bit.”

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